CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 August 2018

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United States military bases are back

The construction of a United States (US)-built military facility inside Basa Air Force Base, Pampanga, the Philippines, started with a groundbreaking ceremony on April 17 by the defense secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, and the US ambassador to the country, Sung Kim. This is being done under an agreement signed in 2014 known as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), made by the previous president, Benigno Aquino III. 
 
The EDCA, which allows these facilities inside Philippine military bases, is not a treaty approved by the Philippine Senate as demanded by the constitution, but is an executive agreement. Several legal authorities have questioned the legality the agreement and this may be likely the reason why its implementation has been held in abeyance until now.
 
Why the president, Rodrigo Duterte, a staunch critic of the United States and close friend of its adversary, China, has allowed the implementation of this agreement has yet to be seen. The ultimate and real purpose of the new US bases within Philippine bases remains unclear. 
 
The primer explaining the EDCA, distributed at the time of the signing of the agreement, goes to great lengths to stress that the facilities are to enhance the ability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to defend the county from external threats. They are to “promote between the Philippines and its defense treaty ally the United States the following: Interoperability; Capacity-building towards AFP modernization; strengthening AFP for external defense; maritime security; maritime domain awareness; humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR).”
 
However, the recently announced agreement between Duterte and China’s president, Xi Jinping, to cooperate and develop the natural resources of the West Philippine Sea—an area claimed by China—precludes any US intervention.  Even if China has constructed military facilities on several reefs and islands, including airstrips, no US assistance has been called for. The United Nations Arbitration on the Law of the Sea has ruled in favour of the Philippines regarding the disputed territory.
 
The stated purpose of the EDCA is, in part, to ensure “maritime security and maritime domain awareness.” So that has been rendered moot. Again, another stated objective is the “strengthening (of the) AFP for external defense.” 
 
Is the Armed Forces of the Philippines facing any external threat, a possible invasion or attack, occupation perhaps? No, there is none. 
 
So the implementation of the bases agreement under EDCA must have another purpose, which Duterte, in his wisdom, has allowed but about which he has remained silent.
 
The facilities are to enhance training and capacity-building of the AFP, the primer states. But these annual training exercises have continued for the past 25 years without the presence of US bases. Why so many US bases within bases? Most AFP camps will have US troops and war material stored there.
 
The only single reason for these facilities is to support humanitarian aid in times of disaster. That alone is insufficient to justify massive expenditure on so many facilities when the Philippine Red Cross has stated that it has supposedly expanded its capability to deal with calamities. It is tasked with that duty and claims it can do it without foreign aid in most cases. There are few natural disasters of such magnitude that foreign US aid is required.
 
The only threat that the Philippines is facing is internal: the New People’s Army (NPA), the threat from ISIS and the  last year’s occupation of Marawi by a rebel group. The need for prepositioned war material and US assistance was seen in the subsequent battle and destruction by aerial bombardment with the alleged help of US advisors and surveillance planes. Their involvement is as yet unconfirmed. These would be the only use of prepositioned US troops and war material, ammunition and supplies. Such material could also be available to support other US war actions in Southeast Asia or Afghanistan.
 
There is no confirmation of the number of troops that will be assigned to these US bases within Philippine bases. It is stated they are assigned there but will be on rotation. How long will they stay is unknown.
 
So, 25 years after the US bases were closed down and the facilities converted to civilian commercial use, and Clark and Subic Naval Base became boom cities boasting hundreds of factories, hotels and malls, the bases are back. They are hiding behind a fig leaf claiming that they are not US bases but within Philippine military bases. It’s just a charade. 
 
The US troops stationed there will be likely out and about looking for recreational entertainment with sex and will join the already thriving mob of sex tourists that are abusing our young women and children with impunity.
 
The fact that the sex industry, with its bars and clubs fronting for prostitution of women and children, is licensed and given mayor’s permits shows local government complicity. The US bases to be reestablished are complicit, not only in violating the spirit of the constitution but violating our women and children who are victims of human trafficking yet again.
 
 
 
 
Father Shay Cullen
www.preda.org

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